Part 2 : Pasquale Paoli – General, Patriot and Democrat

Pasquale Paoli Nutizie NustraleIndependent Corsica:

Corsica establishes itself as an independent state, in rupture with the absolute monarchies of Europe – made concrete by the promulgation of an original written Constitution, adopted by the Corte Consulta (16-18th Nov, 1755). Considered as the first democratic Constitution of modern times, and applied long before the French Revolution, it is highly admired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (social contract), Voltaire, James Boswell and many of the Enlightenment thinkers. Separation of powers, elective principles at all levels, votes for women (heads of households), direct democracy, the creation of capitol, an army of the people, a navy, a national printer, a currency, a national newspaper (Ragguagli dell’isola di Corsica), a university in Corte with the spirit of the enlightened, development of agriculture, (the potato culture is introduced), trade (support of the establishment of Jewish merchants) and crafts.

The island possesses all the attributes of sovereignty (formalisation of the flag, with the Moor head), recognised by major powers. The vendetta is forbidden, decimating families and reprimanded with severity (Ghjustizia Paolina). In 1757, the Matra, supported by Genoa and Colonna de Bozzi (a French ally), instigate a revolt crushed by Pasquale Paoli.

Negotiations between Genoa and France:

The Kingdom of France, for strategic reasons wish to position themselves in the Mediterranean, and find the possibility to settle in Corsica, at the time when the Republic of Genoa was chased out of Corsica and covered in debt – thus asking help from Louis XV.

The French Conquest:

In 1756, the French sign the Compiègne Treaty, granting subsidies and troops in order to occupy Ajaccio, Calvi and St Florent, up to March 1759.

It’s a question of just a delegation, France would administer the island over ten years, keeping peace. The second Campiègne Treaty is signed on August 6th, 1764. The French troops engage in holding garrison in the three cities already occupied; along with Bastia and Algajola for a period of four years. After ten years, Genoa is unable to recover the island, and can no longer repay expenses. France buys back the rights, along with the sovereignty of the island, thus becoming owner – although Pasquale Paoli continues to correspond with the Duke of Choiseul, hoping to assure independence with the terms of the Versailles Treaty, signed May 15th, 1768 – France loans two million pounds to Genoa, who gives Corsica as a guarantee, it no longer possesses. Having learnt about the Treaty of Versailles, he summons a Consulta on May 22nd, in Corte, in which he declares ‘never have a people endured a more bloody outrage; one does not know who one should detest the most – those who sell us, or those who buy us; let us confound them in hatred, since they treat us with equal contempt’. After multiple muted machinations, Louis XV ends the Paolist experience, with a brutal annexation and a military conquest. The troops of the Marquis of Chauvelin occupy Cape Corsica. Determined to defend their independence, the Paolist militias achieve several victories over the French troops; the most well known is that of Borgu, Oct 5th, 1768 – in which the French troops must retreat. However, the reinforced French troops (by the Comte de Vaux, with 35000 soldiers in the Spring), triumph on May 9th in Ponte Novu. The Corsican troops faced with defeat, Pasquale Paoli was forced into exile, leaving Corsica with 500/600 of his followers on June 13th, 1769. Boarding to Britain, passing by Austria and even the Netherlands, he is acclaimed by his admirers everywhere. The Grand Duke of Tuscany receives him, the Emperor, the Stathouder of the Netherlands, before being received and welcomed by the King of Great Britain. His fight has indeed become famous throughout Europe, thanks to the travelogue of British James Boswell – ‘An Account of Corsica, the journal of a tour to that island and memoirs of Pascal Paoli’ 1768.

Loss of Independence:

After PonteNovu, the Corsicans are obliged to become subjects of Louis XV. The military victory by the French and the exile of Pasquale Paoli, did not by any means signify that Corsica had become pacified, nor putting a stop to the numerous insurrections harshly reprimanded, that broke out on the island. In 1774, the Corsicans revolted – but, are brutally repressed (Niolu). Despite amnesties, (1776), Pasquale Paoli, who was by then in London, refused to return. Corsica was ruled by Count Marbeuf, and became ‘a country of States’. The States of Corsica were assembled and composed of twenty-three deputies, each of three orders and chosen by indirect election, meeting eight times (1770-1785). The Assembly only has one consulting role, and each decision depends on the King of Commissioners, the Intendant and Commander in Chief. The administration entrusts few positions to Corsicans, with the exception of lower magistracy grades. The towns however, remain in the hands of the locals. The order of nobility is created, titles are given to over eighty families (including the Bonaparte family). Nobles have no feudal privileges, but can obtain certain advantages; concessions of land, officers in regiments formed for the Corsicans, and scholarships for their children in schools in France. Any tentatives of agricultural and industrial development prove ineffective. Direct taxes received in fringe benefits in 1778, weigh heavily, especially for the poor. The first roads are built (Bastia-St Florent, BastiaCorte). The ‘Terrier Plan’ is implemented. The censuses show a continual growth of population. Now, when the Revolution breaks out, the National Assembly (requested by a patriotic Count from Bastia), decrees that Corsica is an incorporated part of the French Monarchy (1789). The Corsican exiles can now return. On January 15th, 1790, the island becomes a department; (Head state Bastia, seat of the unique bishopric).

Corsica under the French Revolution:

The French revolutionaries authorise Pasquale Paoli to return to the island in July 1790. His voyage from Paris to Corsica is truly a triumphal one too. Welcomed by Lafayette, he is received by the National Assembly (April 22nd, 1790) and the Jacobins Club (April 26th, 1790), at that point headed by Robespierre, and admitted unanimously. Louis XVII names him Lieutenant General and Commandant of the island. Landing at Macinaggio, the population welcomes him triumphantly (July 14th, 1790). He is elected Commander in Chief of the National Guards, and then Chairman of the General Council of the department. A religious riot broke out in Bastia, after the Bishop’s deposition refusing to swear allegiance to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (June, 1791). Pasquale Paoli reprimands it, transferring the administrative centre to Corte (1792), attracting hostilities from the Jacobins (Christophe Salicetti and the Bonaparte brothers). From then onwards, his relations with the Convention are altered. The Revolution goes astray with excess and intolerance (terror), far from the ideals of the Enlightened. Pasquale Paoli will then write: ‘France nowadays no longer holds the ideas of tolerance it had three or four years ago’. Desiring to extract Corsica from this madness, he looks towards a parliamentary monarchy, England, where he still has friends. The Convention sends three Commissioners (including Christophe Salicetti) to the island, in order to keep a close eye on him (Feb 1st, 1793). He is held responsible for the failure of an expedition against Sardinia (Feb 1793), in which Napoléon Bonaparte also participated. The Convention decrees his arresting, and that of Charles André Pozzo di Borgo, accused of despotism by Lucien Bonaparte (April 2nd, 1793). Facing menaces from the Paolists, the Commissioners on the island since April 5th, are reluctant in executing this order. At the end of the month of May, a Consulta in Corte condemns the French government. The Paolists force themselves on Ajaccio, ransacking Napoléon Bonaparte’s house. Commissioners supported by Napoléon, fail in their attempt to attack Ajaccio by sea. The island is divided into two departments (July 11th, 1793), the Golu and the Liamone (actual split in 1796). During the same month, the Convention declares Pasquale Paoli and Charles André Pozzo di Borgo as outlaws, even though the Paolist militia hold the Republican troops confined in Calvi, St Florent and Bastia. Pasquale Paoli engages in a purge of opponents to his authority, (notably, the Bonaparte family), and takes control of a larger part of the island. The rapprochement with Britain accelerates, in order to get rid of supporters of terror in Corsica, and founds an Anglo-Corsican kingdom. Pasquale Paoli seeks support from the English, who send Sir Gilbert Elliot with military advisers (Jan 1794). He officially addresses Great Britain, who hereby sees an occasion to build up its’ possessions, and sends Admiral Hood with the order to seize Corsica. The French forces that are still on the island are reduced and unorganised from the purges, and cannot resist much longer. In February, British forces besiege and occupy St Florent, Bastia (April/May) and Calvi (June/August). The patriots and the deputies reunite as a Consulta in Corte (June 10th, 1794), proclaiming an ‘Ango-Corsican Kingdom’ – announcing its’ Constitution, and rising Pasquale Paoli to the rank of Babbu di a Patria (Father of the Nation).

The Anglo-Corsican Kingdom, and second exile:

To Pasquale Paoli’s deception, Sir Gilbert Elliot is appointed as Viceroy, provoking a riot against Charles André Pozzo di Borgo and himself. Sir Gilbert Elliot asks London to call Pasquale Paoli back to Britain. Having been ruled out by the British as Viceroy, Pasquale Paoli is indeed unhappy with their conduct and decides to retire to Monticello. However, judging it more prudent to do away with the man as his influence is still quite considerable, Sir Gilbert Elliot asks his government to call him back to Britain. He leaves Corsica with regret (Oct 13th, 1795), but resigned – returning to London for a definitive exile – where he dies on Feb 5th, 1807, at 81 years of age.

Riots provoked by the Republican Party break out, and Sir Gilbert Elliot receives orders to evacuate Corsica (April, 1796). Napoleonic troops from Italy occupy the island thereafter, without meeting any opposition.

The Myth:

His private is not well known. By testament, he leaves a large sum of money in order to found a university in Corte, and an elementary school in Merusaglia. ‘Babbu di a Patria’ (Father of the Nation) remains very alive and present on the island, and within the population. His body initially remained in Westminster Abbey in London, until the transfer of his ashes in 1988 to Merusaglia – his native village. His cenotaph however, remains in Westminster.


The University of Corte (having been closed by Louis XV in 1769, reopened in 1981) bears his name. In the XIX century, a Paoli school was founded in Corte, financed with his legacy. The ‘Sons of Liberty’ in the US said they were inspired by Paoli and his combat against despotism. One of the leaders of the Sons of Liberty, Ebenezer McIntosh, baptised his son Paschal Paoli McIntosh, in his honour. In 1768, the editor of the New York Journal described him as ‘the greatest man on earth’.

Today, several American cities bear the name Paoli; notably, in Pennsylvania, ‘The General Paoli’s Tavern’ which is a meeting place for the Sons of Liberty (Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Colorado). During the War of Independence in the US, a battle between an army of  insurgents against British troops in Paoli City, (Pennsylvania, September 1777).


Source: Petru Poggioli Doctor of Political Science ©



2 comments to Part 2 : Pasquale Paoli – General, Patriot and Democrat

  • Isabelle de la croix  says:

    There is a plaque paying tribute to P.Paoli in Westminster Abey indeed, but I don’t think Paoli was ever burried in Westminster Abbey but in the catholic cimetery of St Pancras, it seems this was Paoli’s own wish.

    • Pamela  says:

      Yes, his body initially remained in Westminster Abbey in London, just until the transfer of his ashes in 1988 to Merusaglia – his native village. His cenotaph (bust) however, remains in Westminster. Thank you for taking interest Isabelle.

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